Discovering subconscious fear pushing boundaries

Early morning sun rise @ Hotham 2016
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It was a sunny morning in the last weeks of September. The ski slope had frozen up a little overnight and felt ‘grippy’, but firm. The weeks prior had been warmer in temperature, yet the resort had been hidden in the clouds which made it feel very damp and cold, despite the melting soft Spring snow with a ‘beach sand’ consistency.

I still needed more training for my exam tomorrow, even though I had been doing fine in the soft snow of the previous weeks. This was a very different day and it looked like the same conditions for tomorrow, so went up the chair lift on the beginners run near the ski and ride school, enjoying the spectacular view that had been lacking for so long. This run is one of the highest ones in the resort and sitting in the chair lift makes you feel like you are on top of the world looking over an extensive area of the old Australian alps mountain range and National Park surrounding the resort.

Once I got off, l gripped my poles different to normal, so I could hold them out wide and drag them along the snow for extra balance, while lifting one ski off the snow. I had been learning to ski on one ski with proper outriggers, but only had a short time today before the usual lineup for group lessons would start, so did not waste it getting the keys to the container holding all the special equipment for adaptive skiing.

For the readers that have not heard of adaptive skiing, this is for people with a wide variety of disabilities, physical and cognitive, where with special training and equipment they too can learn and enjoy snow sports. Outriggers are ski poles like crutches, but with a very short ski on the end, touching and sliding along on the snow, providing extra stability, steering and balance. The reason I needed to master skiing on one ski now, was to be able to do demo’s for people missing, or unable to use one of their legs.

Today however, l struggled with the different snow conditions and felt like being back at square one! Oh, no! I started to feel a panic wash over me. My stomach went into a knot as fear started to get a hold of me and my body would not listen to my commands of how to move… I felt unable to get onto the outside edge of my one ski to turn both ways and balance!

All of a sudden it dawned on me that this is how my customers must be feeling when they struggle to keep their balance on their first slide on both ski’s! I thought that l remembered well what it felt like to learn to ski, but had overlooked the fact that l had already gotten used to sliding on slippery surfaces as a kid ice skating and roller blading well before l started skiing, something a lot of my customers had not learned yet!

l thought about what I had learned from reading about and listening to Bruce Lipton’s work, of how the mind works. How we use the conscious mind to learn new skills by being mindful in the moment and focusing on what we are trying to achieve and how the subconscious takes over the other important tasks at the same time that are not focused on. This happens without being conscious of it, because the conscious mind can only focus on one thing at a time. It is very helpful to our survival and functioning while multitasking, like driving a car while thinking about other things at the same time. Once a skill is learned sufficiently, it goes into the subconscious program, to come out when deemed necessary.

l understood now that my subconscious had a program running that told my body not to get onto the outside edge of my ski, because it would cause me to catch the “wrong” edge and lose my balance real quick! Something that happened a fair bit while l had learned to ski! l understood l had to override the old program, to be able to master skiing on one ski in icier conditions too, something that still made me feel a little fearful of falling some days when sliding on two skis down steeper and more challenging slopes. I had to work on building new neural pathways in my brain, and quickly too, a big challenge, with so little time left to perfect.

Thankfully some of my higher qualified colleagues nearby were helpful in sharing some special tips to focus on and within a few more runs l regained the ability I had been working so hard on to perfect in the weeks prior and felt confident enough to pull it off the next day in similar snow conditions.

The exam day came with light snow showers and again low visibility as well as firm snow conditions. Not ideal for showing off our newly learned skills optimally, but examiners generally take that sort of things in account when scoring your tasks. I managed to impress him with my sit ski riding skills and we ran out of time after all the different role play scenarios of teaching different disabilities to show our understanding and efficiency in the task of being an adaptive ski instructor. I did not have to demo the one ski skill after all that, despite our trainer Dean urging me to work on it predominantly, thinking it would be covered on the day. and noticing it was my weakest point.

Our whole team of candidates made it through, all passing and upholding our trainers amazing record of never having trained anyone to fail at the exam! I believed him, because ten years prior Dean also trained me for the hiring clinic, becoming a rookie ski instructor, and again, all 5 in our group got hired! Oh, great memories and jokes shared again…

Qualification medal for instructing adaptive skiing

APSI qualification medal for instructing adaptive skiing

Several years ago I got to know a lady at a local market over Summer, who always stopped at my plant stall for a look and chat. She was still fairly young, guessing in her mid thirties, yet could not walk well enough and therefore in need of a scooter to get around. When she told me she used to live near the ski resort I had worked for several seasons in a row then, I could not help inquire if she used to ski, which she said she did, before her current physical condition, upon which her face turned sad. Knowing about the adaptive program, I asked her if she had heard about it, which she had not.

Months later they turned up in the ski resort and found me through the ski school. We met up in the most popular lunch bar after my work finished and her partner offered me a drink. The lady was beaming with pride and joy of having pulled off what she thought she’d never do again. Her partner was very pleased seeing her so happy too. I will never forget how it made me feel having been the instigator of this joy and achievement! I never saw them again as I did not continue doing markets. I would love to find out if it had helped afterwards too, perhaps even moving her boundaries in general. Something I am currently educating myself about, by reading material about brain plasticity, are the possibilities and less directly related benefits of snow sports for people with disabilities.

This course was an amazing experience, pushing my own boundaries, fears and understanding, as well as adding to my neural pathways, learning new skills. The understanding I gained from it was a real eye opener too, realizing that slopes look a lot steeper from a sit ski’s (and children’s) perspective and gaining an enormous respect for one legged skiers, feeling the strain, pain and cramps myself after a few turns holding my weight on one leg skiing. On my first run I had to swap my ski from one leg to the other 5 times before reaching the base of the slope!

l am so GLAD to finally have done it! Especially after doing the odd training session here and there over the past years, since meeting that lady, unable to commit to all and never finishing off taking the exam. This was mostly due to the fact that work got in the way, as well as lacking the energy for extra training with the added task of minding our ski lodge at night. Then there was my lack of true commitment, for I could have asked for the days off to allow me to train more. Maybe I was not quite ready for it myself at that time?

The true motivation came mid season this year, from having met several more inspirational disabled people over the recent years that benefited from this little known service and some more that did not, but who served greatly in inspiring and reminding me of my dream of becoming an adaptive ski instructor myself. The last hint that made my motivation turn into eagerness was running into and chatting with the DWA (Disabled Winter Sports Australia http://www.disabledwintersport.com.au/) supervisor Phil for our resort, who was very keen to introduce sit ski’s in Season 2017 on the little beginners run where I had been teaching for the last ten seasons and have written about in some previous posts. ( https://happypollyesther.com/2015/08/23/you-have-a-choice/ and https://happypollyesther.com/2014/06/03/why-i-am-exited-about-the-coming-snow-season/ as well as https://happypollyesther.com/2014/10/05/storm-lovers/ )

I am eager to see where this all will lead me and cannot wait to serve my first customer with special needs next season! I hope you can forgive me for tucking my muse away over our past Winter and seeing very little action on this blog, but I think I will make up for this over the coming Summer ;). Comments/queries/suggestions welcome below.

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18 thoughts on “Discovering subconscious fear pushing boundaries

  1. Congratulations! Given my son’s story… inspirational on its own… your post resonates for a good many reasons. My son was stabbed through the brain and has come back from that magnificently. I doubt that he could ski… but you never know.

  2. Melissa Stoffregen-MacDonald

    Hi Esther.
    Beautifully written- as usual! 😊 I’m thrilled you are becoming so involved in adaptive skiing! As a guide for DWA, I get more fulfilment and joy, sharing my love of skiing, snow and the mountains with people who just sometimes need a hand to experience the same. It’s, without a doubt, the best thing I’ve ever done! Hopefully I can work with you and share some of that joy next Season! Melissa /Stoff xo

  3. Congratulations on getting your adaptive qualifications. I’ve had two years off the slopes but we plan to go again next year. I have been a member of the Disabled Winter Sports’ Association and they were great and through my membership, I could afford private instructors, which made such a difference to me. I can testify that as a someone living with a disability, that sense of sliding on the snow and feeling out of control is particularly scary. Took some time to get used to it.
    Here’s a link to one of the posts I’ve written: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/09/14/skiing-like-a-banana/
    I have recently been able to pick up an adult ballet class and am now doing lyrical dance. Our class is full of middle aged people like me and it’s great fun.
    I’d encourage anyone with disabilities reading this to step out of your comfort zones and try new physical activities. I have an autoimmune disease where my muscles attack themselves and breakdown and it goes in and out of flare. It’s good at the moment but I’m still challenged. Through doing regularly physical activity, the better I am.
    xx Rowena

    • Thank you so much Rowena! Also thanks for your beautiful testament of what a variety of physical activities can help achieve for people with disabilities. You are an inspiration and example of why it is important to focus on possibilities! Great to hear from you and that you are doing well 🙂 xx Pollyesther

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